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Peace on Purpose: Obama Foundation Leader Promotes Education and Inclusion for Youth

Working as a primary school teacher on a remote island in Indonesia, Ayu Kartika Dewi, a  2022 Obama Foundation Asia Pacific Leader, has seen the residual effects of violence up close. A decade prior to her arrival, the community was  rocked by violence (Opens in a new tab) that displaced hundreds of Muslim and Christians residents. The impact of the conflict was visible to Ayu when she arrived years later, as many of her primary school students remained hostile towards those of different religions. The experience stuck with Ayu and inspired her to devote herself to work that would expose children to a diversity of cultures as part of their education.

“It became the fuel for my peacebuilding journey. I co-founded SabangMerauke to promote diversity for youth through experiential learning. It is a domestic interfaith student exchange program where youth can spend their school holidays living with host families who are of different ethnicities and/or religion,” Dewi said.

A group of young individuals with a variety of skin tones wearing white button-up shirts and red bottoms stand in the grass in front of two white buildings.

Ayu Kartika Dewi poses with her primary school students.

Today Dewi serves as special staff to the President of Indonesia, where she focuses on national peacebuilding initiatives and programs that promote nonviolence through conversation and cultural exchanges. She is also the managing director of the Indika Foundation, an organization that advances peacebuilding through grantmaking and educational training.

“Empowering, educating, and supporting youth is a worthwhile investment for the development of any society or nation,” she said. “It was evident to me that instances and feelings of hate and intolerance often occur due to a lack of exposure to different people and their cultures. Critical thinking skills and positive social interactions between people, especially youth, is the best way to combat hatred.”

Ayu Kartika Dewi smiles and waves as she walks between two lines of more than 20 Indonesian students. All are a range of medium deep skin tones. The students are wearing uniforms and Ayu is wearing a black garb and pink hijab.

Ayu Kartika Dewi visits a village in a post-conflict area in Indonesia.

Her hope for the future is simple: that democracy continues to flourish around the world and is rooted in equality, justice, and freedom.

“I hope to see a strong generation of youth who actively participates in shaping their future and the future of their community by actively listening to others, refusing to live in an echo chamber, and participating in civil society, or the policymaking process.”

Ayu was one of hundreds of Leaders in our network who attended the Obama Foundation Democracy Forum in New York City.  See highlights from the event.